LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has rebuilt successful teams time and again but fans fear he has been found wanting in all departments of late, a feeling which can only have intensified after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Fulham.
Olivier Giroud, a marquee close-season signing, has taken until mid-November to score his first home league goals but even two excellent headers were not enough to ease Arsenal’s continued pain as they wallow in seventh in the Premier League.
The loss of leading scorer Robin van Persie to Manchester United in August, following on from the departure of creative fulcrum Cesc Fabregas last year, spooked supporters who were already perturbed by a lack of trophies since 2005.
Now the lack of true world-class replacements and inconsistent defensive displays have exposed Arsenal as possible for a top-four finish rather than probable after 15 successive Champions League campaigns.
Normally Wenger, appointed in 1996, would have answers. Lose Nicolas Anelka and buy Thierry Henry. Sell Patrick Vieira and groom Fabregas.
It worked in winning Premier League titles in 1998, 2002 and unbeaten in 2004 as well as bagging a European Cup runners-up spot in 2006 but now his position is being questioned by some - if social media websites are to believed.
His responses after letting slip a 2-0 lead and Mikel Arteta missing a stoppage-time penalty against Fulham were much more curt and terse than usual, if there were answers at all.
Asked if he even thought Arsenal deserved the spot-kick for a harsh handball, Wenger told Sky Sports: “I don’t think so no.”
When cheekily prompted about whether he had considered signing Fulham’s two-goal hero Dimitar Berbatov when the languid but often brilliant Bulgarian quit Manchester United in August, Wenger replied: “I didn’t know that he was leaving Man United.”
Arsenal lost 2-1 at league leaders United last weekend when they barely troubled the opposition goal and fans’ enthusiasm at seeing long-term injury victim Jack Wilshere impressing was curtailed by a red card.
The Londoners lost at home to Schalke 04 and drew away at the Germans following a two-goal head start in their last two Champions League outings while they were 4-0 down at Reading in the Capital One Cup last month before prevailing 7-5.
Wenger, also embroiled in a contract impasse with Theo Walcott, is struggling for answers and Berbatov’s first goal when he nodded in unmarked from a corner sums up their woes.
“Both teams were good going forward. Where we are most guilty is on the corner... nobody jumped for the ball at all,” Wenger said.
“I don’t think there is self-doubt. Some players were a bit jaded before the game and Fulham are good going forward.”
Editing by Ed Osmond